My husband tapped me on the shoulder as I sat at my computer, engrossed in a writing assignment. "Will you listen to my speech? I'm on for Friday and I want to be really good."
I turned and smiled. "Sure. Give me a minute to close down and I'll be right with you."
I wasn't crazy about stopping my work just then, but Charles sounded urgent. He'd been a member of Toastmasters International for many years and he was eager to run his latest speech by me, the one he hoped would qualify him to compete in a regional contest. This was not the time to make him wait or to let out a big sigh! It was a time to put aside my desires and provide a listening ear and an affirming hug.
At that moment I thought about my friend Grace, now deceased, the woman who taught me everything I know about encouragement when I went to her for counsel as a new Christian and as a newlywed for the second time. Grace never saw the "down" side of anything. She kept her eyes on the Lord and always redirected my focus to him when I was worried or anxious. "Listen to my teaching," she often said, "but never put it ahead of the Holy Spirit's guidance. Talk things over with him, and he'll lead you." And she reminded me in words and by example of the importance of encouraging my spouse most of all.
As I watched Grace stand by her husband, Rob, and support him in his faith and as a husband and father and Christian, I knew that's what I wanted to do for my husband, Charles. Over the years of our marriage I've looked for opportunities to bring out the best in him and to encourage him in some way each day. I miss the mark sometimes, but when I do, I remember how Grace encouraged me and I turn things around as quickly as possible.
For this article I asked a few of my friends to share unique ways they encourage their mates. Here's what I learned:
1. Look for the good in your spouse—and you'll find it.
Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other (Romans 12:10).
Lynn "sings" notes of encouragement to her husband, Michael. "It all started one day at church," she said. "As a professional soloist, I was mortified when my sustained high C-sharp collided with the organist's C-natural during a worship service. I had sung the wrong note."
After the service a woman lavished Lynn with praise but Lynn had a difficult time accepting the encouragement because of her mistake. "But Lynn, how many right notes did you sing?" the woman asked.
Lynn did a double-take. "My spirit of perfectionism had masked my ingratitude for the gift God had given me." And sadly, Lynn admitted, "My negativism had often flowed freely to those I love, especially my husband, Michael. In the past I've been quick to point out his mistakes and imperfections. If he bought me a gift, rather than thank him, I told him I wanted a different one. If he fixed an appliance, rather than thank him, I wondered why he hadn't painted the house! And on and on it went, one discouraging comment after another."
But after Lynn's singing fiasco she determined to start singing Michael's right notes instead of focusing on his minor wrong ones. "I had missed whole oratorios of his correct notes, because my ears were only tuned toward criticism."
Next Lynn started "singing notes of thanks for Michael's time, his gifts, his help, and just for being the wonderful, generous person he is." She even sang his praises in public in front of him! Lynn also wrote notes of gratitude and sent them to her husband's office. "Singing notes of encouragement has changed my life and Michael's," she added. "Our relationship is closer than ever."
2. Give up comparing.
Keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies (Psalm 34:13).
Sherry and her husband, Doug, are remodeling their family home. "Most people would shudder at the thought, and for good reason," said Sherry. "Marriages have been known to crumble during the stress of so many decisions and expenses. My husband and I have been down this road before, so this time we've been able to communicate more effectively—maybe because he's letting me decide most of the design elements?" Sherry chuckled.
"During these months," she said, "there have been moments when the tension of so many decisions could easily turn into arguments, but Doug and I have been able to communicate in a pleasant manner regardless of the situation. It would be easy to compare how much we each contribute to the process. But instead of complaining about how much work I do, I try to focus on complimenting my husband's efforts. When I do, he strives to please me by completing my 'honey-do' list."
The remodel is coming to an end at last—but according to Sherry, "our love for each other is stronger than ever."
3. Respond with kindness regardless of the situation.
Love is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13:4).
My friend Kathleen has a favorite saying: "All is in divine order." I have admired her as she encourages her husband in his career as a golf course architect, which often takes him to China or Korea on extended business trips. She also took up golf so they can enjoy this pastime together. Her gentle voice and willing support encourage him with his sons and in his career and when painful times erupt with family relationships.
"I offer love and patience, believing it will all work for the good of each of us, as we communicate in truth and light and encourage one another."
4. Consider your reactions.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor (James 4:10).
"I have learned to press the pause button before responding to my husband," said Heidi. "He is so dear to me, yet for a long time I found fault with him easily. Now I'm conscious of not saying the first thing on my mind. I pause, pray, and say the opposite. I think of something I really like about Dick and praise him for that—such as his skills as a handyman and how supportive he is of me when I'm in an emotional mood that he doesn't understand."
Heidi refers to this process as "flipping the situation" from a negative to a positive outcome. "Pause. Pray. Respond (not react)." Saying the encouraging thing the first time is good for any marriage. "It also saves you from having to apologize later!"
A small gift, a loving touch, a word of wisdom, a much-needed prayer. Whatever we give—small or great—can bless our spouses with encouragement and hope. And it doesn't stop there, because the Lord promises that as we give so will he give to our own needy hearts.
Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it's in your power to help them (Proverbs 3:27).
Karen O'Connor is an award-winning author of books and magazine articles, and a conference speaker. To learn more about Karen visit her website: www.karenoconnor.com